Emerging (verb) Fresh Expression (noun)

I know it may be semantics BUT I have this nagging doubt about the language of Fresh Expressions and it’s link to institutional church. I have almost posted this on several occasions but a conversation with a minister within the institutional church, this week, finally prompted me – thanks Ian.

You see the wording of Emerging Church is a great VERB, and it is one that has grown through the process of dialogue and practice and has come to express an approach to church that is traveling, on a pilgrimage, developing, growing, struggling. As a phrase it has begun to take root in people’s consciousness, and as a concept that has verb as part of it’s definition, it cannot be easily fixed or described and it continues to grow as is moves. There is something very right in the theological DNA of this type approach to being church.

However since the Mission shaped Church report was published and the link to Fresh Expressions made, I cant help feeling a slight loss of momentum. It seems that Fresh Expressions are more noun, more static, more shaped, more copyable. Please note I am not criticising individual fresh expressions of church, but wondering if the institutional link of emerging church through mission shaped church to fresh expressions is really a divergence from the missiological imperative of church to be more fluid, and to continually to contextualise particularly in the post modern west. The noun like wording makes it easier for institutional church to define, and then roll out examples to copy (and some would say control). BUT those that copy will miss all the hard work that these fresh expressions had to do as they emerged all the traveling, the pilgrimage, developing, growing, the struggling.

I think it maybe a backward step, and the consumer mentality of looking for models and the latest thing is so rampant, that if new fresh expressions don’t do the hard work of emerging, we will risk losing the stories and dialogue with people who are struggling to reconfigure what church is in their context, particularly if the structures continue to mirror consumer branding (which I think Fresh Expressions is rapidly becoming) of Fresh Expressions and they let people buy into fresh expressions as the latest thing too easily. History from missiology teaches us to be aware of copying what worked in one area, in another, and the loss this was to the church. Yes by all means learn from one another, but do the hard work of contextualising, maintain the right DNA, otherwise we will fail to grow in understanding of what church is.

This brings me to my final point, which is the sense of arrival that Fresh Expression as the noun has. This is incredibly unhelpful as potentially it can move people to think they have arrived, limit experiments, and certainly has the potential to subdue thinking and redefinition about what church in post modernity is. If we have arrived why do we need to continue to journey!!

11 thoughts on “Emerging (verb) Fresh Expression (noun)

  1. I’ve recently become the “Fresh Expressions Co-ordinator” for our church as we explore the whole minefield of new ways of being church. We have found that to begin a true Fresh Expression, i.e not just something that is what someone else has done somewhere else, is paradoxically difficult or very easy. We’ve been exploring various projects, all of them worthy ideas and then there was a massive police operation in our town (High Wycombe) and as a result of a meeting of member sof hte community, two of our group have become involved in growing with that group of people to explore how our community to maintain strong links between different faith groups within the town. The two people contacted me to let me know they wouldn’t be exploring what thye had plaaned (a very exciting concept involving the practices of music therapy) but instead would focus their energies on this group but “IS it a FRESH EXPRESSION????” they asked. ABSOLUTELY yes, I said.

    If you actually follow the ethos of Fresh Expressions, the whole idea is to see a NEED to ACT upon that need and grow a COMMUNITY which may in time come to WORSHIP.

    That is exactly the order these two women have taken but because it doesn’t feel like church they were unsure.

    In looking at other Fresh Expressions, however, it has been much more difficult because we haven’t always identified a tangible NEED before we ACT. we might ACT in response to a percevied not real NEED.

    I think it’s not so much about verbs and nouns (shame we don’t really have verbal nouns like they do in Latin for a truly Anglican compromise!) but the combination of them.

    The beginning of a Fresh Expression for me must be NEED (noun) responded to by ACT (verb) which leads to COMMUNITY (noun) and then to WORSHIP (verb).

  2. i guess the word emerging suggests something that is flexible and moving, somehting on a journey, not quite reached there yet.
    where as fresh expressions would suggest a new way of doing the same, maybe.

  3. I was hoping you might throw something in Sarah with your lanaguage background. I do wonder however if rather than countering the arguement, the fact that people felt the need to come and ask “is this a fresh expression” illustrates some of how more shape and definition is perceived by others about what is or isn’t a fresh expression. Your role was critical in liberating them from that view, and it sounds like you did a great job.

    I also would have a concern with
    “If you actually follow the ethos of Fresh Expressions, the whole idea is to see a NEED to ACT upon that need and grow a COMMUNITY which may in time come to WORSHIP.”
    as this type of linear approach to what is church is tied to instutional theologies of worship and church. At what point do you see the fresh expression being church, the need, the act, the growing community, the worship??

  4. Very exciting post Richard!

    I like to think of ’emergent properties’. The things that you do should come from the thing that you are.

    The stuff that church does should come from what church is. The things that a particular group does should come from what that church is. What you do should be emergent from what you are.

    To do things that come from outside of you (copying) misses this connection between what you are and what you do.

    It is inspirational to see that group x did action y, but this does not mean that your group m should do action y.

    So how do you go about ensuring that what you do is emergent from what you are? I believe that we need to base our groups in relationships. The relationships come first and the actions are emergent from those relationships. You cannot foresee what you will do, you have to wait and see what comes out of what you are, what you come to be.

  5. it may be semantics but I think you’ve got hold of an important point. We need to grasp that church always should be a work in progress, etc. if we view churchas static then we fail to see the potential of building upon what those who have came before us have done in obediance to God. If we view churchas static then our hearts can be hard to where God is leading us now. So while the emerging church tag is now being used to define a narrow set of churches that share common parctices, every church should in some semce be emerging. If it’s not then I fear it’s already dead.

  6. Haven’t read thro the comments (will do later) but just to say how much this needs to be heard Richard! FE seems to me to have become more ‘stylistic consumer church’ and less ‘missional community’.

  7. Its always difficult for the organisational church to respond to a new movement of God’s Spirit. The debris of these encounters litter church history – with the history written by the ‘victors’. More often than not the organisational church tries to stifle the new.

    fresh expressions (no capitals) is just a name- ‘expressions’ is active not passive, not complete but continuing, not fixed but liquid.

    Fresh Expressions (capitals) is an orgaisation, a esponse of the organised church to the move of the Spirit. It is not constraining anyone, it is an expression of the organisational church wanting to bless – and deliberately does not speak of ‘permission giving’ no one can give the Holy Spirit permission to do anything!

    The last thing we need to do is to institutionalise what is happening – but we do need to recognise the need for a ‘mixed-economy’ church. The church that is must pray and pay for the new.

    I would love to have a face to face conversation with RIchard – and will be more than happy to listen to him and his concerns. Pete Pillinger (member of Fresh Expressions core team writing personally)

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  9. Thanks Pete for your thoughts. One of the things i really value about Fresh Expressions is the great people involved who like you who recognise the dangers and work hard to avoid these type of pitfalls. I am interested in the permission giving issue and whilst I fully agree with the thoughts about the holy spirit led permission issue, I have lots of thoughts floating around about the valuing and validating people to experiment and push boundaries, this also linked into a EC session I was leading yesterday at the baptist college and one of the things that came up was the issue of change from movements to sects to instituion, which I hope to think about and post later in the week. Happy to meet up if you are ever around the south west, but I am definatly not criticising fe (no caps) just questioning/thinking out loud about FE (with caps).

  10. PS ’emerging – verb church – noun
    Fresh – adjective Expressions – noun !! not really that different especially when you use ‘church’ as verb – not ‘a’ or ‘the’ church – but a lifetime of living discipleship. The origins of ‘church ‘ are in ‘ecclesia’ = gathering.

    Was in South West (Devon and Cornwall recently sorry did not know of you then.


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